Inventing enthusiasm for manufacturing

February 29, 2016 - 06:00pm

When Zach Kaplan visited the White House last June for a National Week of Making event, he had no idea it would mean giving away 50 of his company’s 3D carvers (tabletop milling machines).

The CEO of Inventables Inc. (, Chicago, Kaplan and 99 other conference attendees were challenged to provide ideas on how they could help President Barack Obama with his “Nation of Makers” initiative. Kaplan’s suggestion? Put an Inventables 3D carver in one school in each of the nation’s 50 states. What’s more, Kaplan wants to have a 3D carver in every school in the U.S. by the end of this decade. 

Kaplan’s gesture may be a small ripple in a big pond, but his notion of introducing young people to manufacturing is needed in the U.S. “Our country was founded on people building stuff,” he said. “Unfortunately, much of the manufacturing has gone overseas during the last couple decades. America’s industrial situation is not as bright and shiny as it once was, but giving kids a chance at early manufacturing success might help change that.”

Inventables committed to donating one of its CNC milling machines to a school in every state. Prices for the Carvey start at ,999, while basic kits for the company’s first machine, the X-Carve (shown), start at $935. Image courtesy Inventables.

Inventables committed to donating one of its CNC milling machines to a school in every state. Prices for the Carvey start at $1,999, while basic kits for the company’s first machine, the X-Carve (shown), start at $935. Image courtesy Inventables.

The day after the conference, the Inventables team launched a website inviting schools to apply for a free carver, and more than 600 eventually applied. Kaplan held a drawing and has since shipped all but one of the 50 machines. 

At the time of the White House event, Inventables was in the process of introducing the Carvey, a new style of 3D carving machine for an office, school or studio environment. Building an additional 50 machines only added fuel to the production fire. 

Each school had the option of selecting a Carvey or one of the company’s X-Carve 500mm (19.7") or 1,000mm (39.4") machines. 

Kaplan said the effort has been worth it, and he hopes students are inspired to pursue a career in manufacturing, just as he was inspired to do while in high school. “The [school’s] administrators were trying to kill off the shop class because they thought it was a waste of money. In a last-ditch effort, the shop teacher teamed up with the physics department to create a class called SciTech, combining traditional shop equipment with digital manufacturing tools. It blew my mind.”

From there, the difficulty in operating most machine tools motivated Kaplan to start his own company, in 2002. “I wanted to build [a machine] so easy to use that people could start building things in minutes after opening the box,” he said. “I wanted to give them a magical experience, like it was for me in high school. That’s what we’re all about.”

Related Glossary Terms

  • computer numerical control ( CNC)

    computer numerical control ( CNC)

    Microprocessor-based controller dedicated to a machine tool that permits the creation or modification of parts. Programmed numerical control activates the machine’s servos and spindle drives and controls the various machining operations. See DNC, direct numerical control; NC, numerical control.

  • gang cutting ( milling)

    gang cutting ( milling)

    Machining with several cutters mounted on a single arbor, generally for simultaneous cutting.

  • milling


    Machining operation in which metal or other material is removed by applying power to a rotating cutter. In vertical milling, the cutting tool is mounted vertically on the spindle. In horizontal milling, the cutting tool is mounted horizontally, either directly on the spindle or on an arbor. Horizontal milling is further broken down into conventional milling, where the cutter rotates opposite the direction of feed, or “up” into the workpiece; and climb milling, where the cutter rotates in the direction of feed, or “down” into the workpiece. Milling operations include plane or surface milling, endmilling, facemilling, angle milling, form milling and profiling.


Contributing Editor

Kip Hanson is a contributing editor for Cutting Tool Engineering magazine. Contact him by phone at (520) 548-7328 or via e-mail at


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